How a CIO Transformed a Trash Giant’s IT Culture

Implementing or evaluating change is an uncertain and, often, scary process. Should I change? What do I change? When do I change?

IT systems, departments and staff are no different. Everyone agrees, in principle, that IT should be leading change since computing capabilities have grown exponentially over the past decade, but too often we find ourselves arguing against change instead of embracing it. In any organization, the problem is likely cultural and the real issue is control.

Some companies have managed to turn that old thinking around, however.

A few weeks ago, I attended a presentation by Puneet Bhasin, the CIO of Waste Management. Bhasin joined Waste Management from and knew of webscale systems and data analytics. His goal (as he described in this piece from last year) was to transform Waste Management from trash company to logistics company, using intelligent systems and data as an enabler.

‘I Don’t Have an IT Strategy’

One of his first missions was to create a new mindset and change the culture. The old paradigm of Us (IT) vs. Them (The Business) had to go. Bhasin’s view: “I don’t have an IT strategy. It’s a business strategy.” The division amongst the IT groups and business P&L owners had to be put out like today’s trash. IT would be reoriented to be a business enabler instead of continuing as a constraint.

As part of the realignment, Bhasin reorganized the way IT thought about itself. Instead of creating normal, traditional roles inside of IT, he aligned the IT groups to the business service. He went on to explain there is no one person in charge of application development or data. Instead, people are aligned to service business needs such as ecommerce, sales or operations.

Optimize the Business Services

After IT was better aligned to business needs, it was time to optimize those services.

The first step was to collect data. Waste Management has over 21,000 vehicles in its fleet, and it was missing an opportunity by not knowing exactly how these vehicles were being used. The trucks were outfitted with rugged laptops that helped collect data and feedback to collection centers for analysis. Once data stores were populated, Waste Management began to hire and utilize industrial engineers who understood logistics and throughput. These engineers then helped to reform how the company thought about itself.

Said Bhasin: “We helped transform the company from a trash collection company to a logistics company. We are now a logistics company whose packages just happen to be waste.”

Architecting Customer Intimacy Through IT

The next step in Bhasin’s journey, after the people and systems were aligned to focus on the business service, was to architect customer intimacy. Yes, even in the trash business, you need to foster customer relationships.

Waste Management has grown dramatically over the years. It now has some 22 million customers who interact with the company via 130 websites, 22 call centers and 20 billing systems. All of these touch points made it sometimes difficult to create a single view of a customer or make sales more efficient. Systems were consolidated to make doing business with Waste Management easier, therefore increasing customer retention and keeping the trash from piling up.

All of this change sounds easy, and it really is, but it takes time and the courage to see IT in a new way. And, the situation is different at every company.

It took Waste Management years to transform its culture, optimization and customer intimacy. Legacy businesses like Waste Management might move a little slower than webscale businesses such as or Facebook, but its reassuring to know change can happen there.

The blueprint won’t be the same as Waste Management’s, but your company can get there, too. Look within your own organization for ways to make IT cheaper, better, faster. Before long, IT will be leading the charge and helping to drive revenue in your shop.

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